Warning: The following content features incredibly dull screenshots.
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I hate dungeon crawling.
It turns games into a chore. When trying to enjoy a story, a world or even a combat system I don’t want to overdose on the latter. They are almost always just filler, to get in the way of progression or things worth playing.
Long and boring dungeon crawls ruined Dragon Age: Origins for me and put me off playing Dragon Quest VIII altogether. If I wanted to go through a dull, repetitive environment mindlessly fighting meaningless hordes I’d play Diablo.
You find the ancient and decaying Vault, cut off from the outside by extreme radiation. Radroaches scurry within, the lighting is gloomy and the rooms are claustrophobic.
In Fallout 3 you travel to Vault 87 – the only known location of a mysterious item you desperately need. You find it populated by the huge and deadly Super Mutants. They are a result of the horrific viral experiments conducted on the Vault’s former inhabitants.
Sounds tense, mysterious and very atmospheric…Then you run up some stairs, see some Super Mutants, shoot them in the face and spend the next half an hour killing identical enemies through identical corridors and looting useless items in identical rooms. Not so tense or mysterious, never mind atmospheric. It’s pretty much the same thing as the caves and the sewers and the buildings and every other dungeon.
Bodies litter the floors, hordes of insane Selkath that can't be reasoned with lurk in the shadows and the facility is surrounded by sharks.
It’s not just Bethesda, even beloved Bioware are ridiculously guilty of this too. In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you are sent to investigate the underwater Hrakert Station on the planet Manaan. You take a submarine down and meet the only surviving mercenary the Republic had sent after communication was lost. You discover that a large shark appeared on the Hrakert Rift, then afterwards the native Selkath workers went insane and killed everybody.
Sounds tense, mysterious and…Well, you can probably see where this is going. Identical corridors, identical enemies. Circular design with lots of little rooms means it all becomes needlessly complicated and drawn out with frequent map checking. Same as the many dungeons on Taris, Kashyyk or anywhere else in the game.
Here’s five guidelines I’d suggest to avoid ruining dungeons that had potential like those above:
1. Locational awareness
Seriously, stop with the identical corridors. Ask yourself if the player needs to head down another hallway. Design rooms with a purpose – what was the point of the room in-universe? Is it worth looking at? Cut the ones that shouldn’t exist, put them behind a broken door. Differentiate the areas to make them memorable.
Not technically a dungeon because it's Bioshock, but note how this is an actual restaurant complete with reception and party hats on tables.
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